Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, Ken Vandermark – DKV TRIO – Past present
– Live at Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival 2008 –
Past Present: a partial history of the DKV Trio, 1994 to 2011
“The whole approach of modern artists is in this will to trap, to possess something that constantly slips away.” (Alberto Giacometti)
The DKV Trio formed in the summer of 1994. Our early years of work took place in Chicago at The Bop Shop on West Division Avenue, the Lunar Cabaret on North Lincoln Avenue, and at the original Velvet Lounge, when it was still on South Indiana Avenue. The band’s first album, a limited edition CD recorded by Malachi Ritscher at the Lunar Cabaret and released by Bruno Johnson on his label, Okka Disk, underscored a transformation that was taking place on the Chicago music scene – new groups, new places to play, a new audience, new labels, new media coverage. Over the next several years Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, and I expanded our Chicago base by touring in the U.S. and performing in Europe. We recorded a number of albums for Okka Disk along the way, three including other artists (“Deep Telling” with Joe Morris, “Double or Nothing” with the AALY Trio, and “Fred Anderson/DKV Trio”), but most of the performances and recordings were made as a trio. We developed our own language during this period, from the mid to late 1990s, one based on an approach to pure improvisation that created spontaneous “song-forms,” self generating structures that were instantly composed. People often asked who wrote the pieces they heard us play, and most often our answer was that the material was created on the spot.
There was a significant exception to the approach that the trio took toward using completely improvised material – we loved the compositions of Don Cherry. Hamid had worked directly with him for many years and I believe the rapport he developed with Cherry’s music had a profound impact on the music of DKV. When the band performed a breakthrough concert in Europe, at the “Music Unlimited” festival in Wels, Austria on November 8th, 1998 our performance started after one in the morning. The music that evening had been pushed back due to the delayed arrival of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. To this day I don’t think I have ever been so tired as I was before the beginning of that set. DKV hit the stage opening up with a melodic line from Don Cherry’s “Complete Communion”. I still don’t know where I channeled my energy from that night – perhaps the incredible rhythm section of Hamid and Kent or the creative flow of Cherry’s music inspired me (probably both) – but the trio’s gig that evening became one of our seminal recordings, half of the “Live in Wels & Chicago, 1998” album on Okka.
The second half of that album indicates the other most significant musical relationship for the band, our connection to the creative force of Fred Anderson. Hamid’s ties to Fred were profound, and the group started performing at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge very early in our career. Those meetings led to the idea of doing a record with Fred, which was recorded at Airwave Studios (also gone) on West Roscoe Avenue in Chicago, just weeks before the live session that turned into the Okka Limited CD mentioned above. In this case all the music was Fred’s. I went down to the Velvet in the afternoons leading up to the recording to practice Fred’s themes with him; the memory of those hours is beautiful for me and remains one of my most significant musical experiences. Throughout the years DKV would ask Fred to join us onstage in Chicago. It was always a pleasure- he invariably had a direct conduit to what is joyful about making music.
At the start of the new millennium the trio started to play less and less often, both in Chicago and abroad. There are several reasons for this but the fundamental cause was logistical – it became impossible to organize tours together because of the increasingly complex schedules involved. Then DKV began to get together occasionally after a new venue for jazz in Chicago, the Hideout, started a series called, “Immediate Sound”; the club remains one of the premier places for improvised music in this city. Speaking personally, these concerts somehow left me dissatisfied. I don’t think that the music was unsuccessful, but for me it seemed like an experience of nostalgia, not one of forward motion. And nostalgia was never something that DKV had been about in the past.
Somehow I feel that the music of Don Cherry was, once again, a creative trigger for the band. We were asked to play at the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardinia on August 31st, 2008, during a program that celebrated the music of Don Cherry. From the opening moments of “Brown Rice”, I could feel that something had clicked between Hamid, Kent, and I. The music played itself, the elastic language system we had developed together a decade earlier jumped back and the musical conversation that took place onstage was direct and clear, riveting for the players and listeners who were there. From that point on, it was self-evident that there was a proper reason to continue to play together as a trio. For DKV has a rare chemistry that goes past talent and personnel, beyond our own history together and apart. When we meet that chemistry creates an exhilarating musicality that is joy to explore together.
The recordings in this collection on Not Two Records represent the second phase of the DKV Trio, one that began in Sant’Anna Arresi in late August of 2008 and continues now into the second decade of the current millennium.
by Clifford Allen & NYCJR (January 2013)